Wise Livelihood and Guns
Wise or Right Livelihood is the fifth factor in the Noble Eightfold Path and belongs to the virtue section of the path. It is also the second quality of the Ten Perfections, virtuous conduct. In the Buddhist teachings, it is known as morality, ethics, integrity, and Sila from the ancient Pali language.
Sila translates as “bed” and is seen to be the bedrock or foundation of all the Buddhist teachings. Its meaning is derived from nonharming or harmlessness toward all sentient beings. In this way — since it follows Wise Intention on the path — it is based on compassion and generosity for others.
We often hear about Wise Speech and Action that include “The Five Precepts,” five training vows in living a life of well-being, happiness, and peace; they also protect us from un-satisfactoriness, unreliability, and dukkha.
Wise Livelihood is not as commonly spoken about as much as the other two path factors.
“And what is right livelihood? There is the case where a disciple of the noble ones, having abandoned dishonest livelihood, keeps his life going with right livelihood: This is called right livelihood.”— SN 45.8
Although the Buddha did not lay out a set of rules for following Wise Livelihood, he did give us an orientation of what was important to avoid in practicing harmlessness.
“A lay follower should not engage in five types of business. Which five? Business in weapons, business in human beings, business in meat, business in intoxicants, and business in poison.”
So today in our current state of gun violence, with unnecessary deaths in schools, nightclubs, and everyday life, we can find a specific warning from 2,600 years ago that addresses the proper use of “weapons.” It is on this path that we discover factors that lead to the end of suffering and they are here for all those who are wise.
An excerpt from one of the suttas demonstrates the harm that comes from taking up the occupation of soldiering… “Apparently, headman, I haven’t been able to get past you by saying, ‘enough, headman, put that aside. Don’t ask me that.’ So I will simply answer you. When a warrior strives and exerts himself in battle, his mind is already seized, debased, and misdirected by the thought: ‘May these beings be struck down or slaughtered or annihilated or destroyed. May they not exist.’ If others then strike him down and slay him while he is thus striving and exerting himself in battle, then with the breakup of the body, after death, he is reborn in the hell called the realm of those slain in battle.
But if he holds such a view as this: ‘When a warrior strives and exerts himself in battle, if others then strike him down and slay him while he is striving and exerting himself in battle, then with the breakup of the body, after death, he is reborn in the company of devas slain in battle,’ that is his wrong view. Now, there are two destinations for a person with wrong view, I tell you: either hell or the animal womb.”
When this was said, Yodhajiva the headman sobbed and burst into tears. [The Blessed One said:] “That is what I couldn’t get past you by saying, ‘enough, headman, put that aside. Don’t ask me that.’
‘I’m not crying, lord, because of what the Blessed One said to me, but simply because I have been deceived, cheated, and fooled for a long time by that ancient teaching lineage of warriors who said: ‘When a warrior strives and exerts himself in battle, if others then strike him down and slay him while he is striving and exerting himself in battle, then with the breakup of the body, after death, he is reborn in the company of devas slain in battle.”— SN 42.3
Please take some time to review this writing and see how it sits with you. You can come and practice with me in my new class, “Five Spiritual Qualities of Heart and Mind,” beginning on Wednesday, March 14, and at our daylong of practice, “Moving into Stillness,” on Saturday, March 24.
May you all be well,